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Tired of reading articles? Try listening to a few

This iOS app helps you listen to your articles when you're busy

A stack of books with a pair of over-ear headphones around them on an orange background. Credit: Getty Images / knoppper

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Setting aside time to read a good article or two isn’t always easy: there’s always something else to take care of first. As a result, many of us try to fit our reading into the margins of our lives: on our commutes, waiting in doctor's offices, or in the few minutes before our eyes get heavy enough to fall asleep. That might be enough for the infrequent reader, but it's tough for more ambitious folks to get through that stack of unread articles by slowly chipping away.

Audiobooks are great for letting you tune into your favorite books while you're working on something else. Unfortunately, you can't typically get custom-narrated versions of articles for read-it-later apps with text-to-speech like Pocket or Instapaper listen to as you churn through your chores. But with a bit of tinkering and a handy iPhone app, you can still turn your to-read articles into makeshift audiobooks.

Converting the text to audio

Three screenshots of Voice Dream Reader, showing the player interface and voice settings.
Credit: Voice Dream Reader

You can choose from a variety of voices, and you can modify things like speech rate and sentence or paragraph pause length.

The easiest way to listen to articles you've saved for later is to use text-to-speech features built into dedicated apps. There are a fair few options for this available for iPhone, including some free ones.

Pocket (mentioned above) is a popular choice and does a good job for a free app, but it's also pretty barebones. Matter, a newer read-it-later app, has a significantly better voice engine that sounds closer to a natural voice, but it's better suited for early adopters right now than casual users. Its interface is nice, and it has functionality that Pocket and Instapaper don’t offer (you can have newsletters feed directly into Matter’s inbox), but its interface has a higher learning curve than the other two.

The best and most customizable way we’ve found to turn your articles into mini audiobooks on your iPhone is to use an app called Voice Dream Reader, which pulls text from sources like Pocket or Instapaper, as well as Evernote and Google Drive. This allows you to turn virtually any bit of text into something listenable with just a few taps.

As the name implies, Voice Dream Reader also has more voices to choose from than the other apps noted above, with different options for various languages, and premium voices available via in-app purchase that, while pricey, sound significantly better. You can also modify the speed, volume, sentence pause, and paragraph pause of each unique voice to make sure everything sounds right to your ears.

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Choosing the right voice

Three screenshots of Voice Dream Reader, showing the sources it can pull from, as well as some of the voice options available.
Credit: Voice Dream Reader

Voice Dream Reader can pull in text from a variety of sources, including read-it-later apps like Pocket or Instapaper.

To pick a voice, just tap the settings icon at the bottom of the Voice Dream Reader app and select "Manage My Voices." From there, you can scroll through the voices by language, with options for English, Arabic, Spanish (and plenty of others as well) and preview each one before making your decision.

You can also select "Shop" in the bottom right hand corner and buy premium voices for $4.99 each. There are even some children's voices you can choose from in the shop, if you want to give your kiddo something interesting to listen to for a bit.

Selecting your articles

Once you've dipped into Voice Dream Reader's settings and picked out a voice or two you like, it's time to start feeding it some articles.

From the settings screen, select "Content Sources." You'll see options for Scanner, File Browser, Clipboard, Dropbox, and Google Drive, plus a few others. Those are all perfectly fine options from which to draw your text, but since we're specifically looking to read out news articles, Pocket or Instapaper will be your best bets.

Next you’ll want to select the service you plan on funneling all your articles through and log in. Instapaper's premium tier is cheaper, but Pocket's interface is nicer and it's more frequently updated.

After you’ve made your choice, go back to the Voice Dream Reader app's home page and hit the plus button at the top left of the screen. You should see a button for Pocket or Instapaper in the dropdown menu, so tap that. Once you do, it should start automatically importing a group of your most recently-saved articles.

From there, you can either select a single article to start listening to, or create a queue of articles to cycle through as you move about your day. To do that, just tap "Edit" at the top right of the screen, and select all the articles you want to listen to. You should see an icon at the bottom of the screen that looks like a numbered list: tap on that, and select "Add to Top" or "Add to Bottom" depending on where you want these articles to sit in your queue.

It may not be as clean as a well-produced audiobook, and it's a bit of work to get it set up, but Voice Dream Reader provides a great way to listen to articles you've been putting off reading without having to pull yourself away from other, more pressing matters.

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